Last Updated on August 16, 2022
You clicked on this video, so you’re here because you want to know the difference between an impact driver and an impact wrench…or you want to see what WE think about using each of these tools…or you had a random finger spasm. It doesn’t matter—these are cool tools, and with manufacturers touting more and more torque and power on their impact drivers, we figured a video that could help you decide when you might want to get an impact wrench vs an impact driver—well, that might be pretty helpful.
You can make a quick call on which impact tool to use based on the drive style. Generally speaking, an impact driver is a screwdriving specialist. Its collet accepts 1/4-inch hex driver bits and when you’re working with screws like Phillips, square, or Torx, an impact driver is the better tool for the job. It’s also capable of drilling holes if you get bits that have a compatible shank.
When you’re shopping for an impact wrench look for terms such as compact, mid-torque, and high-torque. These classifications give you a reasonable idea of the power level and size, though there’s no set definition for each one. For most weekend warriors and even construction Pros, a compact and a mid-torque are all you need.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into drives, chucks, and collets for a minute. Impact drivers all feature that 1/4-inch hex collet.
Most impact wrenches typically use either a 1/4″, 3/8″, or 1/2″ square drive that you attach a socket to. You can get a friction fit with a ring or have a pin detent that holds sockets more securely. Our team generally prefers a friction ring, but there are plenty of Pros that want the pin detent.
Using an impact wrench with a socket is preferred when you’re working with hex head fasteners such as nuts and bolts—or even timber screws.
When you need extreme power, 3/4-inch and 1-inch drive impact wrenches are what you turn to. These are mainly industrial-level and heavy equipment tools with power levels that many Pros never need.
There’s also a special kind of impact wrench we commonly use for utility work. It uses a 7/16” hex collet instead of 1/4-inch, is much more powerful than standard impact drivers, and takes special bits designed for that collet size.
There are some exceptions to what we just laid out, though. Socket adapters and nut driver bits let you use an impact driver to work with hex head fasteners. You can also find adapters that allow your impact wrench to accept 1/4-inch driver bits.
But…just because you can get an adapter doesn’t mean it’s right for every application. Too much power can shear fastener heads and break bits. Too little power can strain the tool’s motor and possibly cause it to burn up, or simply not get the job done.
When it comes to power options, you can still find a corded impact driver if you really want one, but on today’s construction jobsites, the vast majority of these tools are cordless.
Impact wrenches come in corded and cordless versions, too. But the classic impact wrench sound from a mechanic’s shop or the race track is powered by air. Most tradesmen use cordless models while mechanics rely heavily on pneumatic tools. In the last several years, however, batteries are really becoming more common in automotive shops.
Just keep in mind that while air impact wrenches tend to be less expensive, and a little bit faster, you also need a compressor and a hose. Add that into your cost calculation if you don’t already have them.
When it comes to power, you typically get more torque from an impact wrench than an impact driver. Impact drivers usually display their power in inch-pounds while impact wrenches use foot-pounds. Just like you do with linear inches and feet, divide by 12 to convert in-lbs to ft-lbs or multiply by 12 to convert ft-lbs to in-lbs if you want to compare torque specs.
Impact drivers can exceed 2000 in-lbs of torque and we find that anything over 1600 in-lbs is good for professional use.
On the other hand, impact wrenches start around 100 ft-lbs and are capable of well over 1000 ft-lbs of torque. When we’re working on vehicles, we like a compact impact wrench with at least 200 ft-lbs of torque for most basic work and we’ll switch to a mid-torque model with at least 400 ft-lbs when we’re removing lug nuts.
One thing to keep in mind is that most manufacturers market “nut-busting torque”, or how much fastening torque an impact wrench can remove. The actual fastening torque is lower, so check the specifications in the manual to make sure the one you’re considering has enough power for the job you’re doing.
Speed is a different story. Impact drivers tend to have higher speeds, maxing out around 3600 RPM. A good cordless impact wrench is often under 2000 RPM.
If you’re in a shop using pneumatic impact wrenches, the trend changes. A good mid-torque air impact wrench can hit 8,000 RPM or higher.
Some cordless impact drivers and compact impact wrenches are built on the exact same foundation, just with different drives on the front. Other than those, impact drivers are almost always more compact and lighter than cordless impact wrenches. And pneumatic impact wrenches can be even lighter.
With impact wrenches, the size and weight of the tool usually increase with the power level. The drive size can also clue you in. 1/4-inch drives are only found on compact models while 1/2-inch drives are more common on the much bulkier mid and high-torque impact wrenches. 3/4-inch and 1-inch models are even larger.
In a perfect world, we’d own every type of impact driver and impact wrench so the right tool for the job was always available. If you’re just getting started and your primary focus is more construction or household projects, get an impact driver first.
If restoring a project car is what’s on your radar, start with a mid-torque 1/2-inch impact wrench. Go cordless and grab a compact model from the same brand if you have room in your budget. That way you can use the same battery in both tools and save money by adding other bare tools as you build out your collection.
We hope you found this video helpful. If you have any questions or feedback for us, feel free to let us know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for watching!